This is a big week for Chicago Poles. For the first time in eight years, Paczki Day comes right after Pulaski Day.
But in 2008, Paczki Day coincided with an even more historic occasion: Super Tuesday. That year, the Illinois Legislature, led by Michael Madigan and Rod Blagojevich, moved the primary up to Feb. 5 to help Barack Obama compete with Hillary Clinton. Traditionally, the Illinois primary had been held around St. Patrick's Day, which helped the Irish candidates.
As it so happened, that Feb 5 was Paczki Day, the Polish Mardi Gras -- a pre-Lenten feast of lard-heavy pastries filled with raspberry, cherry, pineapple or apricot. They’re 400 calories each, so Fat Tuesday really lives up to its name.
On Milwaukee Avenue, right across the street from the paczki heaven of Ideal Bakery, precinct captain Dan Levar stood on the salt-crunchy sidewalk in front of the Wilson Park Fieldhouse, and described his preparations for the once-in-a-lifetime primary.
“We have a variety of biscuits that we brought in,” said Levar, the brother of retiring 45-th Ward Ald. Patrick Levar. “There were a few paczki. I'm Bohemian. What I call a paczki doesn't have to be jelly-filled. Powder, custard-filled is a paczki in my mind.”
Inside the field house was Carol Kramer. Kramer sent her husband out for paczki that morning, and “he went a little crazy. I said get an assortment, and he came home with a dozen. I cheated. I took half of the chocolate one, and half of the strawberry one. The rest I'll have to leave out on the street corner.”
As Kramer headed out the door, the top half of her head was hidden under a woolen tam, and her overcoat was buttoned to the nape. Some cities begin Lent with a parade, but in Chicago, it’s too cold to stand on a corner and cheer.
“Mardi Gras is interesting, too,” she allowed. “Don’t get much of a chance to do that, so might as well enjoy the paczki.”
When voter Eugene Jakubowski was exit-polled, he had not yet eaten his paczki, although he planned to buy a raspberry at Jewel. Jakubowski had, however, voted for John McCain.
Besides endorsing McCain, Jakubowski also endorsed holding an election on Paczki Day.
“It raises your blood sugar, and you'll think better,” he said.
Obama won the Illinois primary, which helped pull him into a draw with Clinton for Super Tuesday victories. But Chicago will never again mix paczki and politics. After another February primary in 2010, the legislature voted to go back to the old March schedule. Nonetheless, Ward Room endorses eating a packzi today. Here’s a list of some of Chicago’s best Polish bakeries.
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